Phil saw his first Palladium pantomime 31 years ago, which also turned out to be the venue’s last Cinderella and its penultimate pantomime for decades. Babes in the Wood was its last for almost 30 years – what ever happened to that title? Or Puss in Boots? Or Humpty Dumpty? Or Goldilocks and the Three Bears come to that?
That 1985 Cinderella included Hope & Keen, John Junkin, Paul Nicholas and Des O’ Connor who was rather brilliant at managing to keep the thing afloat. Just. There were real ponies, Step Sisters (they eschewed calling them the Ugly Sisters even then) called Cagney and Lacey and Dame Anna Neagle who died a few months after struggling on as the Fairy Godmother.
It was a pretty lacklustre affair, never reaching the dizzying heights of spectacle Phil expected of Palladium panto legend.
But the genre has returned to Argyll Street with a bang. A bang that Julian Clary – who
minces walks away with the show as Dandini – would turn into the filthiest of Hampstead Heath entendres no doubt.
No shortage of spectacle here. No real ponies either. What replaces them is quite astonishing and must come with a hefty price tag. We wondered at the economics of effects like those, the cast, the sets and lavish costuming despite the eye-watering seat prices. Up to £125 in the stalls – for a panto for goodness sake!
We’ve begrudgingly accepted that we’ll probably never see a a lady Principal Boy let alone a slosh scene again and the step sisters are performed by women (Wendy Somerville and Suzie Chard), which is sinful. Though with Paul O’Grady doing his caustic Wicked Step Mother and Clary appearing in a series of increasingly over the top outfits it’s perhaps understandable. Despite this, most of the panto formula remains intact; the shout outs, the booing, the song sheet and kiddies on stage who are corralled by Buttons in the shape of the winner of America’s Got Talent (and a million dollars), brilliant ventriloquist Paul Zerdin.
Among the 3 hour extravaganza there’s a tap number, dancing pumpkins, dancing guardsmen and a nod to the Tiller Girls. A version of “Love Changes Everything” performed by Zerdin, Lee Mead‘s Prince Charming and Natash J Barnes‘ Cinderella is done so amusingly it left Andrew wondering why don’t they do that way in Aspects of Love? And surely this has to be the first panto to shoehorn in an Ingmar Bergman gag?
The kiddie-winkies must have been left scratching their little heads. We were too during a superfluous number led by O’ Grady and the chorus as a glittering Salvation Army band. The metatheatre of panto situates Baron Hardup’s baronial home next door to the London Palladium with an opening number about Argyll Street. Lord Arthur Strong does a bit of Jack Douglas schtick as Hardup but you sometimes wonder why he’s there. On the other hand Nigel Havers is great fun as a Lord Chamberlain, sending himself up and desperate to, err, make his part bigger, but it will indeed be a precocious brat that understands references to Chariots of Fire let alone The Charmer.
The women of a certain age in front of us were laughing open-mouthed almost as much as us at Clary’s rapid entendre-laden smut. Mums and Dads will have an awful lot of explaining to do afterwards. Let’s hope they can expand on a reference to The Admiral Duncan pub. It’s not just Amanda Holden as the Fairy Godmother, Cinderella’s Flubberish coach and Mr Clary on a twirling Vespa that flies over the heads of some of this audience.
Tickets for next year’s Dick Whittington are already on sale. We do hope they’ve already booked Clary. The title alone will give him plenty to play with.
Wimbledon’s panto will never seem the same.
A sign in the theatre bans filming and flash photography but not taking photographs. Why not? Some were holding up their phones to take snaps during the show. Oh yes they were. We know it’s a pantomime but…